Less than one month stands between now and the July 7 NBA draft withdrawal deadline for underclassmen who declared but retained the ability to return to college. Just like in 2020, this year’s deadlines are later than usual, pulling final NCAA roster decisions into the summer as programs wait to find out who will pursue the professional ranks and who will be back on campus.
Below, Sports Illustrated takes a look at several schools waiting on at least one key decision. It does not include seniors exploring their pandemic-induced optional extra year of eligibility. It’s also not an exhaustive list of schools waiting out NBA plans, but rather the 15 we’ve deemed to have the most riding on prospects who could go either way. These decisions, presented in no particular order, will shape how we view the 2021–22 men’s college basketball season, helping settle contenders, All-America candidates and more.
Kansas (Ochai Agbaji, Jalen Wilson)
While the Jayhawks got some big news this spring when Arizona State star Remy Martin and Iowa State guard Jalen Coleman-Lands announced they’re transferring in, they’re still waiting on two dominoes for next season. Agbaji came into his own as a junior, posting career highs in points and three-point shooting, while Wilson had a solid redshirt freshman season for Kansas. A pending scholarship logjam should both Agbaji and Wilson come back was alleviated when JUCO commit Sydney Curry recently reopened his recruitment. After a season below usual standards in Lawrence, the return of the duo would have expectations soaring.
Ohio State (Duane Washington Jr., E.J. Lidell)
The Buckeyes’ two leading scorers have both entered their names in the draft, and the team’s outlook for 2021–22 greatly hinges on their decisions. Ohio State has national title potential with both Washington and Lidell back, but if neither were to return, its prospects would take a significant hit both nationally and in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes’ 2020–21 season will be largely remembered for that first-round upset by Oral Roberts, but this team got as high as No. 4 in the AP poll and earned a No. 2 seed in the Big Dance. If their two stars return to cement an otherwise solid core, the sky's the limit.
Maryland (Aaron Wiggins, Eric Ayala)
The Terrapins have been ranked in several Way-Too-Early top 10 or top 15 rankings, but those projections largely anticipate the return of both Wiggins and Ayala, showing how vital their presence is to Maryland’s potential this winter. Mark Turgeon strengthened his roster in two key spots this spring by adding Georgetown big man Qudus Wahab and Rhode Island point guard Fatts Russell, but the Terps need the scoring punch of Wiggins and/or Ayala to contend for the Big Ten title. Wiggins’s long-awaited breakout arrived down the stretch in 2020–21, and the idea of the 6' 6" wing doing it over a full season in College Park is tantalizing for Maryland.
UCLA (Johnny Juzang, Cody Riley)
Juzang was the breakout star of the men’s NCAA tournament while leading UCLA from the First Four to the Final Four. While it’s obvious that his stock is high after his March shooting performance, SI draft expert Jeremy Woo notes that the guard “has more work to do to solidify himself as a top-40 selection.” The Bruins would love to have him back to anchor what would be an extremely-hyped season in Los Angeles, especially with the additions of Rutgers big man transfer Myles Johnson and five-star recruit Peyton Watson. The 6' 9" Riley, meanwhile, would provide an additional boost in the frontcourt after scoring in double figures in four of UCLA’s six NCAA tourney games.
Michigan (Hunter Dickinson, DeVante’ Jones)
Dickinson declared late in the process, setting up a big decision for a Wolverines team that could possibly get votes for preseason No. 1 if he returns to Ann Arbor. The big man had a very successful freshman season under Juwan Howard, finishing as Michigan's leading scorer and rebounder, and his production figures to only grow as the go-to guy in a potential sophomore year. Dickinson still has work to do to round out his game, but the question is whether it will occur at the collegiate or professional level. If he spends next season in maize and blue, he’ll be a preseason National Player of the Year candidate. Jones, meanwhile, is the reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year and is testing the waters after transferring in from Coastal Carolina. Should he suit up for the Wolverines, he’d be a nice addition to a young backcourt.
West Virginia (Miles McBride, Sean McNeil)
The Mountaineers already got good news recently when guard Taz Sherman announced he will return for a fifth season, but all eyes are now on McBride and McNeil. After a breakout sophomore year in Morgantown, the 6' 2" McBride has legitimate first-round aspirations and is easily the liklier of the two guards to keep his name in the draft. He’s the kind of star who would immediately raise West Virginia’s ceiling if he comes back, while McNeil’s return (12.2 ppg, 38.8% from three) would help stabilize the backcourt regardless.
Oral Roberts (Max Abmas, Kevin Obanor)
Abmas, the nation’s leading scorer last season, put his name on the map with his performances during the Golden Eagles’ historic Sweet 16 run. The 6' 1" guard then took advantage of that platform by entering the draft while retaining his college eligibility. Like with UCLA’s Juzang, Abmas’s stock soared due to the tournament (despite his undersized frame), and he’s now No. 48 on SI’s NBA prospect Big Board. His fellow star at Oral Roberts, Kevin Obanor, also entered the draft, and should they return to school, the dynamic duo will continue to keep eyes on the Golden Eagles’ program.
Alabama (Jaden Shackelford, Joshua Primo)
The rise of the Crimson Tide was one of the stories of the 2020–21 season, and Nate Oats has his program poised for a potential encore this winter. But the outlook will be notably influenced by the decisions of Shackelford and Primo, who were both key starters for the SEC champs. With Herbert Jones and John Petty gone, Alabama could use more veteran presence to pair with top freshmen additions JD Davison and Charles Bediako. The Tide ran Oats’s system to a T last season, with Shackelford leading the way in scoring and Primo serving as one of the team’s most reliable perimeter shooters.
Virginia Tech (Keve Aluma)
Aluma was one of the breakout players of the 2020–21 season, helping the Hokies reach the NCAA tournament after being picked to finish 11th in the ACC preseason poll. A transfer from Wofford who followed Mike Young to Blacksburg, Aluma was top 10 in the ACC in both scoring and rebounding, with the 6' 9" forward showing a shooting touch from deep as well. Aluma’s return would go a long way toward Virginia Tech continuing its upward trajectory under Young.
Texas (Courtney Ramey)
Ramey was part of a three-headed Longhorns backcourt in 2020–21, teaming with Andrew Jones and Matt Coleman. Texas will look a lot different next year after bringing in several transfers—not to mention a new head coach in Chris Beard—but if Ramey rejoins Jones, they’ll serve as the bridge to the new regime. With Kentucky point guard transfer Devin Askew on board to replace Coleman, Texas would once again have three players who can handle the ball. If Ramey returns—which seems quite likely despite his draft entry—the pieces are here for the Longhorns to make a splash in Beard’s first season after ending the Shaka Smart era with a whimper in the Big Dance.
St. John’s (Julian Champagnie)
Champagnie and his twin brother, Justin (Pittsburgh), both broke out with big years as sophomores at their respective schools. While Justin has the higher NBA profile right now (No. 37 on SI’s Big Board, while Julian is No. 74) and has already decided to turn pro, Julian faces a critical decision. The Red Storm turned the corner in the second half of Mike Anderson’s second season, thanks in no small part to Julian’s All–Big East first team performance. Anderson has since been rewarded with a six-year extension, and the return of Julian would undoubtedly give him and St. John’s a centerpiece player to build the team around.
Purdue (Trevion Williams)
A young Boilermakers team overachieved last season before suffering early exits in both the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments. Williams, though, was the veteran anchor for Purdue, and he took a higher percentage of his team’s shots when on the floor than any other player in men’s Division I (per KenPom). One of the country’s most effective low-post scorers and rebounders, Williams has steadily grown in his three seasons in West Lafayette. Once seemingly a longshot to stay all four years, the 6' 10" center now is weighing returning for one final go-around to lead what could be a national title contender.
North Carolina (Armando Bacot)
The Roy Williams era in Chapel Hill is over, with Hubert Davis taking over the reins from the college hoops legend. Bacot, a former five-star recruit, was part of a loaded-but-crowded frontcourt as a sophomore, paired around Garrison Brooks, Day'Ron Sharpe and Walker Kessler. All three of those players have moved on, with Davis bringing in stretch-four Brady Manek from Oklahoma, so UNC’s interior will look a lot different in 2021–22 regardless of Bacot’s decision. But there’s no doubting the 6' 10" center would be a big coup for Davis after averaging 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds as a sophomore.
Iowa (Joe Wieskamp)
This is the second time Wieskamp has gone through the NBA draft process, after previously doing so as a freshman but then skipping it entirely in 2020. The sharpshooter put up big numbers from the perimeter (49.5% shooting from three in Big Ten play) as a junior while also expanding his game and becoming more efficient, but he also spent the year playing with the National Player of the Year, Luka Garza. Should he come back to Iowa City, Wieskamp would have the chance to be the go-to guy in the Hawkeyes’ offense, only without Garza being the focal point drawing the defensive attention. His return would greatly alter Iowa’s outlook—T-Rank’s RosterCast projects the Hawkeyes at 60th without him, but 27th with him.
Virginia (Trey Murphy III)
The Cavaliers turned around their offense last season thanks partly to the additions of Murphy and Sam Hauser, but the departures of Hauser, Jay Huff, Tomas Woldetensae and Casey Morsell leave a void in firepower that once again must be replaced. Transfers Jayden Gardner (East Carolina) and Armaan Franklin (Indiana) will help, but the most impactful “addition” Tony Bennett can get is Murphy. As a junior, the 6’ 9” wing put up elite shooting numbers, going 43.3% from deep and 62% from two and finishing sixth in ACC play in both effective FG% and true shooting percentage. With the bulk of UVA’s best perimeter shooters out the door, Murphy would play a critical role and likely propel the Hoos into top-25 projections.
Other notable decisions to watch: Terrence Shannon Jr. (Texas Tech), Ron Harper Jr. (Rutgers), Matthew Mayer (Baylor), Isaiah Wong (Miami), Jason Preston (Ohio), De’Vion Harmon and Eric Williams Jr. (Oregon), Tyson Etienne (Wichita State), Scotty Pippen Jr. (Vanderbilt), Isaiah Mobley (USC), Jermaine Couisnard (South Carolina), Marcus Bagley (Arizona State, but currently in transfer portal), Colin Castleton (Florida), Dawson Garcia (Marquette), Kendric Davis (SMU)
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